The Record of Gray Davis | Features | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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The Record of Gray Davis 

Thursday, Aug 14 2003
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The downside, said Bill Magavern, a Sierra Club lobbyist, includes his administration’s negotiating of long-term energy contracts that rely almost exclusively on non-renewable forms of energy. Magavern also faults Davis for deregulating the disposal of radioactive waste from decommissioned research facilities, such as the Santa Susana site once used by Rocketdyne. And Davis vetoed legislation that would have banned low-level radioactive waste from standard landfills, which are typically ill-prepared, he said, to deal with the material. Davis also has given in too often, he added, to logging interests eager to clear-cut old timber, and to agribusiness, which has resisted pesticide restrictions. Both industries number among Davis’ campaign contributors.

On balance, however, “California has the best environmental laws in the country,” said Magavern. “Unquestionably the best on global warming and clean air. Near the top in clean water, hazardous waste and toxics. Davis would be up there among the best governors in the country on environmental issues.”

Gay Rights

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The Record: Very Good

Like every God- and pollster-fearing politician, Davis opposes calling it “marriage” when two men or two women make a long-term commitment to one another. But he’s at least considering the civil-union bill, sponsored by Jackie Goldberg, which would provide everything the state could offer but the M word. ‰

Never expect Davis to carry a purple banner at a gay-pride parade, but he’s signed real advances into law, such as stronger provisions for reporting and prosecuting hate crimes. He also expanded Medi-Cal coverage to include non-disabled people who test positive for the HIV virus but do not have full-blown AIDS. Another new law permits domestic partners to inherit their partner’s property without a will.

Davis also has appointed nine openly gay or lesbian judges. “During the Deukmejian and Wilson administrations, no gay or lesbian judges were put on the bench, while Jerry Brown appointed one,” said Eric Bauman, an L.A.-based Davis staffer who took a leave to campaign against the recall.

Davis gets top marks from openly gay state Assembly Member Mark Leno (D–San Francisco). “There has been no governor in the history of this state who has done anywhere as much as Governor Davis” for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Health Care

The Record: Improvements at the Margins

Much like the state budget, the health-care system itself is broken. For starters, 7 million Californians lack health insurance, and 80 percent of those are working people and their families. Many advocates assert that bold, unconventional solutions are called for, like a Canadian-style, single-payer system of universal, government-funded health insurance. Davis is never likely to be so daring. But advocates credit Davis with measurable progress at the margins.

“Gray Davis has improved the system both for consumers and for those who work in the system,” said Beth Capell, a lobbyist for Health Access, a nonprofit coalition that advocates for quality, affordable health care.

First and foremost, Davis signed a raft of HMO reform bills in 1999 that give Californians rights that industry lobbyists have successfully fended off at the federal level. Californians, for example, can sue their HMO, and they also can appeal medical decisions to an independent physicians panel. Davis also has expanded the Healthy Families program, which covers the children of the poor and also would serve their parents, if it is fully funded.

Also on Davis’ watch, California has mandated increased staffing in nursing homes and become the first state to establish nursing ratios in hospitals. “We assume when we go to the hospital that it’s safe,” said Capell, “and it hasn’t necessarily been true. The Davis administration has helped to change that.”

The Davis administration also agreed to budget funds that have lifted the average wage of nursing-home workers, who do most of the hands-on care in nursing homes, from about $7 an hour to more than $9 an hour in L.A. County.

The changes fall well short of revolution. And some advocates have complained that the Davis administration has saved dollars by limiting access to health programs.

If Davis survives the recall, he could have the chance to make health-care history by signing pending legislation mandating that employees provide health-care coverage. But that may be tweaking his centrism too far.

Housing and the Homeless

The Record: Some Progress

Davis supported last year’s Proposition 46, which funds both homeless shelters and the construction of affordable housing. Davis also has signed legislation strengthening tenants’ rights. In 1999, a more prosperous time, Davis more than doubled the state’s housing budget. The problem is that such efforts have fallen well short of the need, which requires something like a statewide housing trust fund paid for with ongoing, vastly increased revenue, said Jan Breidenbach, executive director of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing.

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